Social cognitive theory of mass communication (Bandura, 2001) articulates the important role of mass media in shaping individuals’ cognitions and behaviours. It stresses the importance of human agency and observational learning in understanding human behaviour (Bandura, 2001). As such, when images of certain physical body shapes and sizes are presented by the mass media to women, norms or expectation of what their bodies should look like are created. Research suggests that for women negative body image is caused either by them perceiving their bodies as being different than they actually are, or because of unrealistic expectations, or distorted beliefs which are often shaped by images in their external environments (Blood, 2005:2). Traditional media has an influence on body image, and research has shown that exposure to media images can be associated with negative or unhealthy body image (Halliwell, 2015; Sidesmoore & Tochkov, 2011).
However, as mediated content is transitioning from traditional to more user-generated content since the everyday individual can now be an active producer, (Marshall 2010: 38) research has also shown that user content and social network content impacts how people feel about themselves (de Vries & Kühne, 2015) and that social media images are as influential as images found in traditional media. Social media sites and apps present users with images they seek, but also with images that the user did not actively seek out from others’ posts, thus providing users with images that could potentially, refreshingly, present more diverse images of the female body (Andsager, 2014:407).
The social networking app, Instagram, is currently the fastest growing social network site globally (Wagner, 2015) and presently has over 700 million monthly users. It can be interpreted a platform for changing how we perceive the body and beauty, and a potential vehicle for challenging normative portrayals of women’s bodies by corporate mass media images.Women can construct themselves how they desire in these spaces, create women advocacy spaces, and cyberspace itself acts as a means to undermine “the gatekeeping role of traditional print media and opening up new opportunities for the publication and dissemination of women’s work and other related interests” (Sampaio & Aragon, 2001:131).